Guest Post by Tilo Flache on his new book about how to stop the clutter at its source.
Ever since Marie Kondo has turned her ideas into a major success with several books and even a Netflix show, decluttering is on everybody’s mind … or so it seems. I come across a good number of people who refer to her book or the show, but a large portion of the population still haven’t even heard the term decluttering.
This is surprising with all the magazine articles and books that are out there. However, most of them focus on the self-help aspect of decluttering, suggesting that the reader herself (yes: they appear to be mostly women, indeed) make work of their own decluttering efforts and get it done on their own. Beyond that, there is precious little scientific writing on the subject of clutter, and most of it is squarely lodged in the areas of psychology and therapy, or looking at the health and safety aspects of a cluttered space.
On top of that it has to be said that the issue of clutter is usually seen as problem to be dealt with by removing the superfluous from our surroundings. It occurred to me that this approach may be trying to tackle the problem too late in the game. Most people only become aware of clutter when it has already reached a point where it severely effects their wellbeing and taking care of it is already a major undertaking.
Whatever reasons you may come up with to keep yourself from shedding some of the load, none of them are easy to overcome. So why not look at what makes you accumulate ever more, and limit your intake to begin with? Why don’t you simply stop the flood at the source rather than dealing with the consequences? This sounds like a good idea before clutter accumulates as well as when you have already started dealing with the surplus.
But first of all you’ll need to understand the constant pressure you are under from advertising, your own expectations, real or imaginary obligations to conform to your peers and the tricks of the retail business, to name but a few. The best way to become resilient to the influences at work on your conscious and subconscious mind is to become aware of the tricks and mechanisms used by the sales machinery.
That is exactly the approach I have taken with “Promise Broken. Moving On.” I have decided to look at the connection between advertising, consumerism and the accumulation of things we possess and fill our homes with. The book holds up a mirror and shows you how exactly this affects you and everyone else. Ask yourself – and be brutally honest – are you like a moth to the light, or are you able to resist the attraction and fly the other way?
In my quest for a simpler life I’m always fascinated by people who’ve not just talked about living with less but actually followed it through.
I’ve recently been introduced to Holly Mitchell, a 24 year-old buyer (ironically) and writer, who lives in Leeds. She and her fiancé Ben are proud minimalists.
Here’s a little chat I had with Holly:
So tell me about your minimalist journey?
Minimalism has completely changed our lives over the past two years. When Ben and I first moved in together we lived in a three bedroom house – purely to accommodate the sheer volume of stuff I’d accumulated over a lifetime!
In truth, I was a hoarder. I had wardrobes filled with clothes all over the house, walls lined with bookcases and every visible shelf was packed with trinkets. Fast forward to now – we’ve got rid of around 90-95% of our possessions (either sold, donated or given away) and live in a zero-bedroom flat.
It hasn’t been an easy road… The process was long, gruelling and, at times, seemed never-ending. But I wouldn’t change a thing – we’re happier, living more consciously and free from the trap of consumerism.
What inspired you?
A random article on the internet about people living out of backpacks first peaked my interest and then it just all went from there. One day, we had an ‘aha!’ moment. From there, we knew we couldn’t continue how we were.
What difference has it made?
Minimalism has allowed me to strip back to the basics, reassess my life and focus my energy on what really makes me happy. It was eye-opening to re-examine my relationship with my material possessions. I found out that I kept and hung onto things ‘just in case’ I may need them later.
Now, I make active choices about what I bring into my home. I also don’t really have the urge to buy anything anymore. Everything I own serves a specific purpose and that’s brought a sense of calmness to my life. Until we started getting rid of our things, I didn’t realise the impact being surrounded by clutter had taken on my mental health.
As we minimalised and cleared our space, I felt like a weight was being lifted. I’m less anxious, have more time to focus on hobbies and, with less choice, it’s a lot quicker to get ready in the mornings too!
It is possible to do an inventory of your house?
100%! At the height of our decluttering, I felt overwhelmed and like I was drowning in stuff – I would never want to get into that position again.
I’ll use my kitchen as an example – we basically have two of everything – one for each of us. For example, we have: 2x small plates, 2x cereal bowls, 2x pasta bowls, 2x tumblers, 2x wine glasses and 2x mugs. We have 3 large plates – just in case we break or need an extra one.
We don’t really have the space to entertain guests and we socialise outside the house so our minimal tableware has never been an issue. If we were to ever host a big Christmas dinner, we’re not opposed to asking people to bring their own.
If we move into somewhere bigger, we may look at upgrading to 4 of each but we’re happy as we are for the time being.
What did you let go of first?
Clothes. In total, I donated or sold around 40 bin bags of clothing, shoes and bags.
I hate seeing waste and it upsets me how fast fashion is making the clothes we wear almost disposable. When I do buy clothes I opt for second-hand and support ethical and sustainable brands where possible. While I don’t own many items of clothing anymore (around 20 garments) I try to buy versatile pieces and have created a capsule wardrobe around them.
Did you find anything hard to let go of?
I was absolutely adamant about keeping every one of my books when we started. As a real bibliophile I got great satisfaction from seeing a stacked bookcase in a room. However, as we got rid of more things, my mindset began to shift. I realised that I rarely re-read anything and the books were taking unnecessary space.
I ended up reducing my collection from 250 books to only 15 of my favourites. As more months passed I got rid of all of them entirely; I invested in a Kindle and support our local libraries instead.
Do you now miss anything?
What lessons have your learnt?
‘Things’ are not responsible for your happiness (sorry, advertising companies,,,) – you are.
I think there’s also real truth to the old saying about the ‘tidy house, tidy mind.’
Do you live by any rules in terms of how to live?
We live simply and look for the value in non-material things. It’s always good to take time out to be grateful for what you do have instead of focusing on what you don’t and comparing yourself to others.
Since downsizing and no longer spending money on things we don’t need, we’ve adopted a much more frugal lifestyle. This has helped us to save for a house deposit and a wedding – both will be minimalistic, of course!
What is your goal?
We don’t have any plans to change our lifestyle.
We’re getting married in a few months. It’ll be a small casual do – nothing fancy and definitely no white dress. All we care about is having the people we love there to celebrate and good food. Over the next year, I’d like to get more involved in the zero-waste movement too.
How do others react to your lifestyle choice?
Some people are intrigued but most struggle to accept it (I mean, who doesn’t want to buy stuff?!) or they find it very extreme. At the start, I think both our families thought we were depriving ourselves or just super skint but they’ve got used to it now. Christmas and birthdays can be awkward times of the year, but friends and family now accept and respect our choices such as our ‘edible-only’ gift policy last year.
What advice would you give to other aspiring minimalists?
Minimalism means different things to different people so don’t compare yourself to others. I know that our approach and that (basically) living in one room will not be for everyone, but I do think that most people could benefit in a small way from decluttering – even if it’s just organising that kitchen drawer filled with random junk!
I’d also advise people to really question whether they need something before buying it. By doing this you’ll end up saving money and it’ll stop you from bringing useless stuff into your home.
When decluttering things will probably get worse before they get better but DON’T GIVE UP. It’s a tough road and definitely isn’t a quick fix but the effort will be worth it in the end.
Trust me, you won’t regret it.
If you’re interested in frugal living and want more info on Holly & Ben’s minimalist journey visit frugalfoxes.home.blog
Many of my clients find it tricky to let go of cards – so hold onto stacks of birthday cards or engagement, wedding, baby, new job, another baby, retirement congratulation cards. They feel guilty about letting them go or have a fantasy ideas about cutting them up and making their own cards – which can happen but don’t let a back log build up.
Well, the intention of a card is to convey a message – and once that message has been conveyed, received, appreciated and mulled over you can let them go.
I’m not saying get rid of every card – of course keep the really special ones or ones that appeal to your taste. You could place them in a memory box or drawer, or frame them. Wedding or new baby cards could be put in a album – but only if you’re realistic about if you can actually be bothered and honest about if this will really happen.
I once saw a lovely idea where a mother had framed her child’s favourite card from each birthday year – so there was a sort of count up on the child’s wall. I’m not sure it lasted beyond double figures – in terms of the child no longer wanting them up – but it’s a great thing to start if you have a little one.
A few years ago I bought this wooden heart which I wasn’t really sure what to do with. And with a young baby I forgot Valentine’s Day – so I wrote on the heart. Dah dah = Mrs Romance!
I’ve kept up the tradition for the last 13 years. It’s great to look back at where we were as a couple – babies, moving house, getting a dog and seeming to still quite like each other along the way.
We leave the heart hanging for a few weeks then it gets put away to be rediscovered the following year – though in 2013 we forgot … we must have bee too loved up to remember – or the opposite!
Once I’d started on my personal decluttering journey one of my new found pleasures in life was purging.
Yes, using up that last little bit of something, before I replaced it.
I remember how my mum would pour vinegar into the ketchup bottle to help swill out those bits stuck to the side.
There’s a whole movement called Project Panning who rejoice in using up their make-up and sharing pictures of when they ‘hit pan’ – which basically means the bottom of the case, of say a blusher, starts to show through.
Followers will only ‘Buy’ when they’ve finally said a proper ‘Bye’ by using up the product. A stricter version is Project 10 Pan Challenge for which you have use up ten products before you buy a new one.
Panners often focus on one product, such as a body butter, and use it up rather than having half a dozen on the go.
I think the same thinking can be applied to everything we consume.
It’s weird but when I’ve found I’ve given my children too much choice they demand more choice. Take breakfast cereals – half eaten packets of Shreddies, Weetabix, Rice Crispies, Multigrain Shapes, and Strawberry Crunch would take up loads of room on the shelves feeling insulted when my girls said they didn’t like any of them. Now I give my daughters the choice of two. And I refuse to replace either until one is finished. The girls have quit whinging.
It’s so tempting to stock pile these days, with 2 for 1 offers, which can be great money savers but do ask yourself if you really need it or if you’re buying it as someone is giving you a gentle push. And actually have room to store it?
I believe bulk buying can be a great way to save money (and the environment if it means less packaging) but it has to be planned and not done on a whim otherwise you’ll find yourself buried in loo roll and choking on Cheerios.
So take stock of what you have, by gathering duplicates into one place (from jam to sun tan lotion) and promise to only BUY until you’ve said BYE. It’s satisfying and your bank balance will be happy too.
We’ve all done it as we’ve followed the floor arrows round Ikea. We’re thinking about Swedish Meatballs and mindlessly grab a bag of Bevara clips (the name is Swedish for ‘preserve’), convinced we only have a few left.
But the niggling thought that they’re made of plastic so will take billions of years to degrade so can’t just disintegrate, stopped me buying more on my last visit.
So when I returned home I did a quick 5-minute declutter of THAT kitchen drawer which holds all the storage stuff like foil, clingfilm, bags and elastic bands. And yes – there they all were – snuffling around at the bottom with the thousands of white wire ties which we never ever use but my husband insists on keeping.
Yes – one of the many pleasures I get from decluttering is it encourages you to take stock.
If you gather all things of a the same category into one place it’s often surprising what you find. Who knew you actually had:
27 rolls of half used sellotape
8 opened but unfinished bottles of suntan lotion which will be out of date next time the sun reappears
A gallon of free shampoo and shower gel in 47 little plastic bottles
Enough plasters to cover every inch of skin of my 9 year old daughter
Well, it was almost this bad…
These are often items you buy or squirrel away ‘just in case’ you might run out of – as you’ve lost track of what you actually have.
And once you’ve understood you never need to buy another plastic polly pocket again, and you’ve given all the wandering items a designated place TOGETHER, the purging can begin…
This is another immensely satisfying path to follow on a decluttering journey which I plan to blog about soon.
What have you found you’ve an abundance of in your home?
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